Switzerland's 'Crypto Valley' Presents Real Opportunities for Blockchain Entrepreneurs
Around 2,000 of just 123,000 residents of the small canton of Zug are involved in the crypto and blockchain space.
I consider myself to be the ultimate digital nomad, living in half a dozen countries (and nine different cities) in the last 10 years to pursue bigger and better opportunities. In my last full-time role as the chief revenue officer for a global influencer tech company, I traveled 80 percent of the time moving between bases in London, Tokyo and New York.
As well as frequent flyer status, my experience in my previous role saw me help move the company from dynamic tech startup to mature global business, with offices in eight international hubs and, at the end of 2016, launch a successful ICO. When my husband was relocated to Zurich for work, we decided that the time was right to launch our own project, combining our passions for technology and culture in a new business venture.
While Zug may not spring to mind immediately as a technology hub compared to the more (in)famous Silicon Valley, New York or even London, Kris's relocation meant that we ended up at the heart of a burgeoning "Crypto Valley." Even though the canton of Zug is tiny -- just 239 square kilometers -- it punches well above its weight when it comes to doing business. There are over 30,000 registered companies and around 2,000 of just 123,000 residents are involved in the crypto and blockchain space.
The city is a combination of a typical Swiss town and the "finest" socialist architecture that can be found in my mother's hometown, Namyslow in Poland. However, the blockchain community is huge, with multiple meet-ups happening almost every day. Despite its size, it still has a very intimate air. Just a few years ago, you could see Vitalik Buterin (the founder of Ethereum) in the Starbucks across the Bahnhof. A typical meet-up here might be just 10 people, a sharp contrast to my first blockchain meetup in New York where more than a thousand people gathered in Jay-Z's nightclub 40/40.
Zug is quietly but determinedly building itself as a center for cryptocurrency and innovation. It experimented with allowing residents to pay taxes using cryptocurrency as early as 2016. It's still far from perfect; you will face problems opening bank accounts if you are dealing in crypto transactions, but Switzerland's willingness to try is encouraging. Smaller regional banks such as Hypothekarbank Lenzburg are bucking the trend and opening themselves up to crypto customers.
For Orion Vault, there is another very strong reason to base our business in Zug. We want to disrupt the old world of fine art investment, with the brave new world of blockchain and create a new digital asset class. For this vision to be realized we are partnering with museums around the world, emerging and established contemporary artists, and renowned art galleries. Switzerland is home to some of the finest galleries in the world and it is estimated more than 1 million pieces of fine art are housed in the freeport in Geneva.
This collision between the old and new worlds isn't just restricted to art. It is interesting to note that a lot of professionals coming into blockchain at the moment are from finance backgrounds such as Credit Suisse or UBS, not necessarily from technology. And while Switzerland is famous for being a financial hub, it is easy to overlook the fact it is also a huge center for some of the best engineers in tech. Zurich is the second biggest Google hub for engineers, after Silicon Valley.
All this means that you can move fast when starting, scaling and finding new partners compared to larger hubs like London or New York. These are much more competitive and almost always end up being slower and more costly. In a closer-knit community, once you learn who's who and how the processes and regulation works, you can act quicker. There are also fewer places to hide so while certain services are more expensive at face value, I feel you have more certainty about quality and value. You get what you pay for.
In New York, you can feel the speed and innovation in the air and, if you want to prove yourself globally, this is still the city to do it. However, the pressure can be intense and as a result, if you're not immediately recognized as the next Uber or Amazon, you might lose track of how good you are and be tempted to over-promise, rather than over-deliver.
Conversely, while London is ahead of most other European countries in terms of digital adoption and understanding the direction it is headed in, it can feel really slow to move. The British culture is rooted in negotiations and diplomacy so often pitches feel more like presenting a legal argument rather than just having to prove anything you say is doable, deliverable or just can eventually happen. And the uncertainty of what post-Brexit Britain looks like has to be a consideration for businesses looking to start up.
For me personally, of all the places I've had the fortune to live in over the last decade, Zug has to be my favorite for a number of reasons. As well as the speed of doing business, most people I had the pleasure to meet and get to know are incredibly creative and grab new innovations very fast. This adaptability brings creativity and innovation together so I see much more forward-thinking work being done in Zug than in many other hubs. In addition, Zug's proximity to majestic mountains and beautiful lakes creates a very special working environment combining nature, innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit.